Political turmoil convulses 19th-century Russia, as Razumov, a young student preparing for a career in the czarist bureaucracy, unwittingly becomes embroiled in the assassination of a public official. Asked to spy on the family of the assassin
his close friend he must come to terms with timeless questions of accountability and human integrity.
About the Author
Joseph Conrad (1857–1924) was fluent from birth in French as well as his native Polish. He learned his third language, English, as an adult, and it was in English that he wrote his evocative stories and novels. Conrad drew upon his experiences in the British and French navies to portray the struggles of humanity amid the world's vast indifference.
Date of Birth:December 3, 1857
Date of Death:August 3, 1924
Place of Birth:Berdiczew, Podolia, Russia
Place of Death:Bishopsbourne, Kent, England
Education:Tutored in Switzerland. Self-taught in classical literature. Attended maritime school in Marseilles, France
Read an Excerpt
To begin with I wish to disclaim the possession of those high gifts of imagination and expression which would have enabled my pen to create for the reader the personality of the man who called himself, after the Russian custom, Cyril son of Isidor—Kirylo Sidorovitch—Razumov.
Excerpted from "Under Western Eyes"
Copyright © 2007 Joseph Conrad.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Acknowledgements Introduction Joseph Conrad: A Brief Chronology A Note on the Text
Under Western Eyes
Appendix A: Selected Letters
- To John Galsworthy (6 January 1908)
- To J.B. Pinker (7 January 1908)
- To John Galsworthy (30 November 1908)
- To Stephen Reynolds (18 December 1908)
- To Perceval Gibbon (11 or 18 September 1909)
- To Perceval Gibbon (19 December 1909)
- To John Galsworthy (22 December 1909)
- To J.B. Pinker (12 January 1910)
- To John Galsworthy (17 May 1910)
- To John Galsworthy (15 October 1911)
- To Edward Garnett (20 October 1911)
- To Olivia Rayne Garnett (20 October 1911)
- To Macdonald Hastings (24 December 1916)
Appendix B: Contemporary Reviews
- Anonymous, “Betrayal,” The Pall Mall Gazette (11 October 1911)
- [Edward Garnett], “Mr. Conrad’s New Novel,” The Nation (21 October 1911)
- Anonymous, “New Novels,” The Athenæum (21 October 1911)
- Anonymous, “Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad,” The Academy (2 December 1911)
- Frederic Taber Cooper, “The Clothing of Thoughts and Some Recent Novels,” The Bookman (December 1911)
- Anonymous, “Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad,” Catholic World (January 1912)
- Anonymous, “Recent Fiction and the Critics,” Current Literature (February 1912)
Appendix C: Contemporary Accounts of the Assassination of de Pleve
- Anonymous, “Assassination of M. De Plehve: A Bomb Hurled in St. Petersburg,” The Times (29 July 1904)
- Anonymous, “The Murder of M. De Plehve,” The Times (1 August 1904)
- Anonymous, “The Murder of M. De Plehve (From Our Russian Correspondents),” The Times (2 August 1904)
- Anonymous, “The Assassination of M. de Plehve,” The Illustrated London News (6 August 1904)
- From E.J. Dillon, The Eclipse of Russia (1918)
- From Boris Savinkov, Memoirs of a Terrorist (1931)
Appendix D: Illustrations of the Assassination of de Pleve
- Viacheslav Konstantinovich de Pleve, Russian Minister of the Interior
- Egor Sazanov, Assassin of de Pleve
- de Pleve’s Exploded Carriage (view one)
- de Pleve’s Exploded Carriage (view two)
Appendix E: The Central Committee of the Party of Socialist-Revolutionaries, “To the Whole Russian Peasantry” (July 1904)
Appendix F: Joseph Conrad, “Autocracy and War” (1905)
Reading Group Guide
1. In 1903 Conrad referred to himself as a "homo duplex," or "double man." The image of the doppelg?nger appears frequently in his work. How does the idea of a "double" apply to this text? Does Razumov ever encounter his own "double"? If so, what purpose does it serve?
2. Consider the role of the professor of languages. What do you think Conrad's intention was in giving the narrator this profession? What is the professor's function in the novel? Is the fact that he is an Englishman significant? If so, what perspective does this provide?
3. Examine the role of women in the text. How have Tekla, Mrs. Haldin, Nathalie, and Sophia affected Razumov? How are their roles similar? Different? In addition, examine the conversations between Razumov and Sophia. What is Conrad saying about the nature of women as compared to the nature of the revolutionary? Is it convincing?
4. Consider Razumov's reaction to the mention of women in his first encounter with the professor of languages. Why do you think he reacts in such an antagonistic manner? What does this reveal about Razumov?
5. Consider the title. How does Conrad use sight and seeing as motifs throughout the novel?
6. Some critics regard the scene where Razumov leaves Councillor Mikulin to be the dramatic climax of the novel. Examine the last lines of their conversation. What is the implication of Mikulin's softly spoken question "Where to?" How does this question set the theme for the rest of the novel? What does it imply?
7. In his Author's Note of 1920, Conrad reflects, "These people are unable to see that all they can effect is merely a change of names. The oppressors and the oppressed are all Russians together." With this in mind, compare Conrad's representation of the revolutionaries as opposed to the czarists. Does he favor one over the other? What is Conrad saying about an individual's free will as opposed to the demands of the state? Can this dichotomy be reconciled? If so, how?
8. Examine Razumov's decision to give up Haldin. How does he come to this decision? How does he justify and personalize this decision? Is he acting for his own safety or for the good of the czarist state? Does one take precedence over the other?
9. Finally, examine Razumov's own decision to confess. What is the catalyst for his decision? Is there more than one? Is this a confrontation with his own morality?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Under Western Eyes contains the incite and commentary into revolt and human struggle that is usually only found in genuine russian novels of the previous generation. Although Conrad's 'The Secret Agent,' written on a similar theme, was cumbersome, Under Western Eyes has the same style that makes Lord Jim and other stories so enjoyable.
Apolitical Russian student Razumov comes home one evening to find a fellow student, Haldin, waiting for him in his rooms. Haldin tells him that he has assassinated a despotic government minister on the street that morning, and has come to Razumov for refuge and help.Conrad is awesome. The unbidden tangle Razumov is suddenly put into forces him into a series of choices that, whichever way he turns, will transform his life forever. Much of the book takes place in Geneva - the original murder having taken place in St Petersburg - and is told by an English teacher living there, who knows but is never a part of the Russian emigre revolutionaries' community, and doesn't quite understand them (his are the 'western eyes'). The book covers some of the same ground as Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, but (in my view) in a more credible way, and in a far more challenging one: whereas Raskolnikov's crime is clearly bad and there is a clear good in opposition to it, Razumov's problem leaves him with no good options. Whatever he does in choosing between Tsarist autocracy and the revolutionary utopians will be bad, and he have to face incredible guilt - but he has to choose one, he cannot do anything else. Conrad's writing is often a bit of tangle to read, but I thought this was easier that some of his other books - and where it is difficult, it works because it is about characters at war with themselves in convoluted ways. Great stuff.
¿Under Western Eyes¿ (1911) is a story which takes place as revolution is fomenting in autocratic Russia. The author Joseph Conrad was a British subject, but born Konrad Korzeniowski and from his childhood well acquainted with revolution; his father was a radical in Poland as it attempted rebellion unsuccessfully against Russia, a rebellion in which four of his uncles were killed or imprisoned. The book gets off to a brilliant start; a young student Razumov finds himself unwillingly swept into a terrorist attack against the State, and from that moment on finds that he cannot return to a simple life of study with the goal of advancement into society. In a twist of fate he is credited with a revolutionary act, one he disagrees with, and one he cannot distance himself from. Despite his aloof nature, he seems to possess a magnetism which leads to him being admired and claimed by both sides of the struggle, one he wanted no part of. He¿s a ¿wrong man¿ caught in the middle and ends up racked with guilt for his actions, as well as hatred for those who have put him in this position. Conrad made the larger political struggle a human one in this way, and showed those involved ¿behind the scenes¿, flawed human psychologies and all. I liked how he showed the ideological faults of both sides of the struggle as well; indeed, objectivity was one of his goals. He states in his `author¿s note¿: ¿The ferocity and imbecility of an autocratic rule rejecting all legality and in fact basing itself upon complete moral anarchism provokes the no less imbecile and atrocious answer of a purely Utopian revolutionism encompassing destruction by the first means to hand, in the strange conviction that a fundamental change of hearts must follow the downfall of any given human institutions. These people are unable to see that all they can effect is merely a change of names. The oppressors and the oppressed are all Russians together¿¿I was reminded of a couple of things as I read the book, though these are by no means perfect analogies. The balance reminded me of John Lennon¿s lyrics in the song `Revolution¿, ¿Well you know we all want to change the world, but when you talk about destruction, don¿t you know you can count me out.¿ Secondly, as Razumov finds himself haunted by guilt in several forms after a violent act at the book¿s outset, he reminded me a bit of Raskolnikov in ¿Crime and Punishment¿. Apparently Conrad was not a Dostoevsky fan so he probably wouldn¿t appreciate the parallel.Some of Conrad¿s writing is quite nice, such as the portraits he paints of the Laspara daughters ¿prowling about enigmatically silent, sleepy-eyed, corsetless, and generally, in their want of shape and the disorder of their rumpled attire, resembling old dolls¿, but in general I found the book too sculpted and meticulous after Part One. There is not enough rawness and passion, and when the first-person English writer begins taking a larger role in Part Two, the text is too repetitive and slow. It picks up nicely at the very end but needed editing.Quotes:On ¿change¿:¿As if anything could be changed! In this world of men nothing can be changed ¿ neither happiness nor misery. They can only be displaced at the cost of corrupted consciences and broken lives ¿ a futile game for arrogant philosophers and sanguinary triflers.¿On happiness:¿He merely thought that life without happiness is impossible. What was this happiness? He yawned and went on shuffling about and about between the walls of his room. Looking forward was happiness ¿ that¿s all ¿ nothing more. To look forward to the gratification of some desire, to the gratification of some passion, love, ambition, hate ¿ hate too indubitably. Love and hate. And to escape the dangers of existence, to live without fear, was also happiness. There was nothing else. Absence of fear ¿ looking forward. `Oh! the miserable lot of humanity!¿ he exclaimed mentally¿¿On hotels, I¿m sure this will come to mind on my ne
Razumov is a loner, studying at the university and working hard. He is interrupted one day by another student, Victor Haldin, who confesses to the assassination of a government official just that day. Razumov realizes he must help Haldin, but he doesn't care about politics, only about the consequences if his involvement gets out.Despite setting out to help Haldin, when things get complicated Razumov informs on him. Haldin is arrested and executed. (This may sound like a spoiler, but it takes place early in the book and is described on the back cover.)When I started reading this book, I couldn't remember the story at all. I know I read it in college, but nothing that I was reading stood out to me. I think it's because I was confusing it with The Secret Agent, which is also about anarchists and the coming revolution.Conrad uses this story to talk a lot about Russians and their psychology and how Westerners can never understand them. He also skips around in the story, going back several months, then jumping back ahead. It's confusing, and I don't think it works.The story is told as if taken from Razumov's diary. The person telling the story is an English teacher he meets much later in the book.I'm not sure I would recommend this one. Like I said, the timeline is rather confused. I felt like Conrad had an agenda in writing this book, and it got in the way of the story. I don't think I will read this one again.
Sometimes heavy going but ultimately rewarding this is a story of a young man who got caught up in political events preceding the Russian Revolution, and though he wanted nothing more than to be left alone to live his life, he becomes irrevocably caught up in intrigue and counter intrigue. Terrifying and tragic the tale is as fresh and frightening as an episode of Spooks.
gets into the 'faux' thinking of a potential 'terrorists' brain/thinking